Denver -- Bill McCartney, the former University of Colorado football coach who began the Christian men's ministry Promise Keepers, has a new calling that barrels into the sensitive intersection of Christianity, Judaism and evangelism.
McCartney has quietly founded Road to Jerusalem, a Denver-based group whose stated goal is to improve relationships between evangelical Christians and Messianic Jews, according to those familiar with its vision.
Small in number and relatively new to the American faith scene, Messianic Jews believe they can retain their Jewish identity while accepting Jesus - or Yeshua in Hebrew - as Messiah. Mainstream Jewish leaders consider Messianic Jews to be Christians who are no longer Jewish and say their true aim is to convert Jews.
McCartney, a white born-again Christian, is teaming up with the Rev. Raleigh Washington, a black minister from Chicago who formerly headed Promise Keepers' efforts to achieve racial reconciliation. Washington is an elder at Church in the City, a racially diverse Denver congregation led by a Messianic Jew.
The group plans a large event Dec. 3 in Palm Springs, Calif., to publicly launch the effort.
"I think (McCartney) is the first major Christian figure who is taking a stand with Jewish believers of Yeshua," said Russ Resnick, executive director of the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations, which numbers 85 congregations.
But significant hurdles exist, and not just from the Jewish community. Some evangelical leaders distance themselves from Messianic Jews because they fear damaging solid relationships with Jewish leaders and Israel, Resnick said.
Some evangelical Christians' increased interest in Israel and Judaism stems from exploring their faith's roots. Others are motivated out of the belief that Israel is central to the events leading to Christ's second coming.
"The mainstream Jewish community really discourages Christian support for Messianic Judaism," Resnick said. "They feel it's OK for Gentiles to believe in Jesus, but it's not OK for Jews. Sometimes the price of friendship (for evangelicals) in the Jewish world is to avoid us."
McCartney resigned from Promise Keepers last fall, saying he had finished his mission.